National route N3
Route information
Maintained by SANRAL, N3TC, eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality[2]
Length578 km (359 mi)
Major junctions
Southeast endPine Street/Commercial Road in Durban
  N2 in Durban
N11 near Ladysmith
N5 at Harrismith
N17 at Alberton
N12 at Alberton
N12 at Bedfordview
Northwest end N1 near Sandton
Major cities
Highway system
Numbered routes of South Africa
N2 N4

The N3 is a national route in South Africa that connects Johannesburg and Durban,[1] respectively South Africa's largest and third-largest cities. Johannesburg is the financial and commercial heartland of South Africa, while Durban is South Africa's key port and one of the busiest ports in the Southern Hemisphere and is also a holiday destination. Durban is the port through which Johannesburg imports and exports most of its goods. As a result, the N3 is a very busy highway and has a high volume of traffic.


The N3 is divided into 12 sections, starting with section 1 in Durban and ending with section 12 in Johannesburg. Between the two cities, the route passes the following towns and cities: Pietermaritzburg, Estcourt, Ladysmith, Harrismith, Heidelberg and Germiston. It no longer passes through most of these towns, as bypasses have been built around all of them (except Pietermaritzburg). The last bypass that was built was around the town of Warden.


N3 freeway approaching Durban, N2/N3 E.B. Cloete Interchange in the foreground
N3 freeway approaching Durban, N2/N3 E.B. Cloete Interchange in the foreground

The N3 begins in the Durban Central Business District at Pine Street and Commercial Road as a dual-carriageway freeway and heads west, passing through Berea and Mayville before intersecting with the N2 (Durban Outer Ring Road) at the EB Cloete Interchange. It then heads through Westville before bypassing the south of Pinetown. The route is then tolled at Mariannhill as it leaves the urban area, and then heads towards Cato Ridge. From Cato Ridge, the route passes Camperdown before turning towards the northwest and heading towards Pietermaritzburg, the provincial capital.

After bypassing Pietermaritzburg Central to the east and north, the N3 heads up a steep incline known as Town Hill before passing near Hilton and Howick; a road to the Southern Drakensberg (the R617) leaves the N3 at Howick. The route then becomes rather picturesque as it heads through the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, passing through Mooi River (where another toll is located) before heading to Estcourt. Just past Estcourt, access to the Central and Northern Drakensberg via the R74 is provided, before the N3 heads in the direction of Ladysmith. The N3 bypasses Ladysmith to the west, with the N11 providing access to Ladysmith Central. The N3 from Cedara (in-between Hilton and Howick) to Heidelberg in Gauteng is managed by a private concessionaire, the N3 Toll Concession.[2]

A few kilometres after the N11 interchange, the N3 is tolled once again; the dual-carriageway freeway also ending at this point. From here, the N3 ascends the South African plateau via Van Reenen's Pass; at the top of the pass, the N3 crosses into the Free State.

A section of the N3 in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, showing the dual-carriageway freeway.
A section of the N3 in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, showing the dual-carriageway freeway.

Free State

After crossing into the Free State, the N3 heads to Harrismith, where the N5 leaves it (providing a route to Bloemfontein and Cape Town via the N1). The N3 then heads to the north, and passes the town of Warden and heads towards Villiers, where a toll is located right before the Villiers off-ramp (Wilge Toll Plaza; the N3 only has 1 exit in the vicinity of Villiers). Immediately after Villers, the N3 crosses the Vaal River and enters Mpumalanga. Here, it becomes a dual carriageway again and remains one for its remainder.


The N3 then heads through the south-western tip of Mpumalanga in the direction of Heidelberg. Soon after crossing the Vaal River, the N3 meets the R54 road, which provides access to Vereeniging in the west. After 23km, the N3 bypasses Grootvlei. Just before reaching Heidelberg, the N3 is tolled; this also marks the point where the N3 crosses into Gauteng.


The N3 then continues north & bypasses Heidelberg before heading towards Johannesburg. The section maintained by the N3 Toll Concession ends at the R23 interchange in Heidelberg.

On approaching Johannesburg, the N3 passes the townships of Katlehong and Vosloorus before bypassing Alberton. At the R554/R103 (Old Barn Road; Heidelberg Road) off-ramp in Alberton, the N3 becomes an e-toll Highway (with open road tolling) and remains as one for its remainder.

Next, the N3 meets the N17 Highway at the Rand Airport Interchange near Rand Airport (each ramp onto the N17 has a tollgate). Almost immediately afterwards, the N12 (the Southern Bypass portion of the Johannesburg Ring Road) merges with the N3 at the Elands Interchange, with the N3 then becoming the Eastern Bypass portion of the Johannesburg Ring Road. From here, it follows much of the borderline between the City of Johannesburg and the City of Ekurhuleni.

The N3/N12 concurrency proceeds northwards from the Elands Interchange and bypasses the city of Germiston (Capital of Ekurhuleni) to the west. It reaches the Geldenhuys Interchange, where it forms an interchange with the M2 Highway (Francois Oberholzer Freeway), which provides access to the Johannesburg CBD in the west and the Germiston CBD in the east.

Next, the N3/N12 heads to Bedfordview, where the N12 leaves the N3 at the Gillooly's Interchange (just east of the Eastgate Shopping Centre), joins the R24 Highway eastwards and provides access to the East Rand and OR Tambo International Airport. This interchange with the R24 is purported to be the busiest interchange in the Southern Hemisphere.

From here, the N3 continues going northwards as the Johannesburg Eastern Bypass and bypasses Edenvale and Alexandra before terminating at the Buccleuch Interchange just south of Midrand and north of Sandton, which is the point at which the N3, N1 and M1 converge.

Alternative route

Where the N3 has been realigned, the old alignment has been designated R103. The R103 exists in three sections: between Durban and Ladysmith, between Warden and Villiers, and between Heidelberg and Johannesburg. The only exception is within Durban itself, where most of the old N3 alignment is designated as the M13 instead of having the usual R103 designation; the R103 diverges from the M13 in Gillitts just outside Durban.

The R103 is typically used to avoid the toll plazas on the N3, with one notable exception being the Tugela East Toll Plaza located on the R103 itself where the R103 and N3 meet north of Ladysmith.

Prior to the redesignation of the National Route numbers in 1971, the N3 moved east at Heidelberg and passed through the towns of Standerton, Volksrust and Newcastle via Laing's Nek Pass, before joining the present alignment at Ladysmith. This route now designated R23 between Heidelberg and Volksrust and N11 thereafter to Ladysmith remains an alternative to the N3.

Dual carriageway sections

Following the opening of the motorway section in December 2001 between Heidelberg and Villiers, the N3 now has at least two lanes in each direction for its entire length between the two cities. The section between Johannesburg and Villiers is dual carriageway motorway. Between Villiers and Warden the road is single carriageway motorway with two lanes in each direction. From Warden to Keeversfontein (Tugela Toll Plaza; Ladysmith) the road is no longer motorway but retains two lanes in each direction. Thereafter, the route to Durban is dual carriageway motorway. This last section is the second longest motorway by route number, but the longest motorway following one alignment in South Africa.

Proposed realignment

SANRAL proposed plans to re-route one section of the N3 between Keeversfontein (Tugela Toll Plaza) near Ladysmith, and the start of the tolled section near Warden, probably meeting the present alignment just south of Warden. This would involve the diversion of the road over De Beer's Pass, as opposed to Van Reenen's Pass. Not only would it reduce the route distance by 14 kilometres, but would have a lower gradient. Proponents of the new road argue that the existing Van Reenen's Pass is too steep for heavy trucks and exceeds the maximum gradient of 1:7 for an officially declared national road. This has caused a huge outcry among residents of Harrismith and Van Reenen, who rely on passing traffic to sustain businesses such as restaurants, petrol stations, and holiday rest places.

The N3 Toll Concession has stated that the De Beer's bypass will be required when daily traffic volumes reach 13,900 vehicles - the current traffic volume at Van Reenen is 11,000 vehicles, and based on projected increases in traffic volumes, the bypass will need to be operational by the end of 2014, with construction commencing in the second half of 2011. However, they carefully fail to mention the additional cost this will entail for the general public and road users, which would be paid at the additional toll plaza to be added as part of the new route. Furthermore, the additional impact on congestion this new toll plaza will have on the traffic may in fact be worse than the congestion caused by the steep gradient of the current route.[3]

In March 2017, it was decided by SANRAL that the construction of the De Beer's Pass Route will not continue.[4][5] They are still considering alternatives in order to improve the existing Van Reenen's Pass.


Most of the road is only usable upon the payment of toll. There are toll plazas at Marianhill, Mooiriver, Tugela, Villiers and Heidelberg. As mentioned above, most of the toll plazas can be avoided by using the R103.[6]

A sixth toll plaza would have been constructed south of Warden when the De Beer's bypass (mentioned above) would have been built.[3]

Open road tolling of the northernmost part of the N3, from Black Reef Road (Old Barn Interchange; R554) to Buccleuch Interchange (N1 Interchange) in Gauteng, came into effect from December 2013 as the e-toll system. There are a number of electronic toll gantries located on this stretch, which charge road users according to their estimated distances travelled.

Notable interchanges

Distance from origin (km) Exit number Destinations Notes
0 Durban Central Business District N3 begins
8 165 N2 - Stanger, Port Shepstone
17 17 M13 - Pinetown Northbound only
20 20 M7 - Pinetown, Queensburgh Southbound only
27 Mariannhill Toll Plaza
35 35 M13 - Hillcrest Southbound only
50 50 R103 - Cato Ridge
55 55 Camperdown
60 60 R103 - Umlaas Road
65 65 R103 - Lynnefield Park / Lion Park
76 76 Pietermaritzburg Northbound only
77 77 R56 - New England Road
81 81 R33 - Greytown
83 83 Pietermaritzburg Southbound only
99 99 R617 - Bulwer, Southern Drakensberg
143 143 Mooi River Mooi Toll Plaza
179 179 Central Drakensberg
194 194 R74 - Colenso, Winterton, Northern Drakensberg
230 230 N11 - Ladysmith
R616 - Bergville
246 246 R103 - Ladysmith Tugela Toll Plaza (on N3)
Tugela East Toll Plaza (on R103)
Dual-carriageway ends
Proposed start of De Beer's bypass
272 KwaZulu-Natal/Free State provincial border
301 29 N5 - Harrismith, Bethlehem, Bloemfontein (via N1)
354 82 Warden Proposed end of De Beer's bypass
405 133 R34 - Vrede, Frankfort
441 169 R26 - Villiers Wilge Toll Plaza
442 Free State/Mpumalanga provincial border
Dual-carriageway recommences
447 5 R51 - Balfour
R54 - Vereeniging
490 (approx.) Mpumalanga/Gauteng provincial border
De Hoek Toll Plaza
501 59 R23 - Heidelberg (south), Standerton
508 66 R42 - Heidelberg (central), Nigel
512 70 R23 - Heidelberg (north), Benoni
545 103 N17 - Johannesburg, Springs Gosforth Toll Plaza (on N17 ramp)
547 105 N12 - Potchefstroom, Kimberley N12 merges with N3
550 108 M2 - Johannesburg, Germiston
555 113 N12 - Witbank
R24 - Johannesburg, OR Tambo International Airport
N12 separates from N3 and merges with R24
569 104 N1 - Bloemfontein, Pretoria
M1 - Johannesburg
N3 ends


  1. ^ Falkner, John (May 2012). South African Numbered Route Description and Destination Analysis (Report). National Department of Transport. pp. 13–15. Archived from the original on 6 June 2014. Retrieved 12 August 2014.
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ a b "N3 route to be shortened". Retrieved 2008-09-10.
  4. ^ "SANRAL cancels de Beers Pass Route construction plans".
  5. ^
  6. ^ "N3 Toll Road Sections". Archived from the original on 2006-09-24.

Coordinates: 28°18′56″S 29°11′56″E / 28.315678°S 29.198914°E / -28.315678; 29.198914